Covered in low, dense scrub and towering cacti, the arid Hellshire Hills extend for around 160 square kilometres west of Kingston. From Port Henderson, the signposted road to the Hellshire beaches runs under the flanks of the Hellshire Hills, passing a huge scar in the mountainside gouged out to provide marl for the construction of Portmore’s homes. Just before the quarry stands an abandoned high-rise building, formerly the Forum Hotel, built by the government in an unsuccessful attempt to entice tourists to the area. Past here, the road hits the coast again beside the Great Salt Pond. An old Taino fishing spot, the pond is a site of ecological significance that continues to be polluted by excesses from Portmore’s woefully inadequate sewerage system.
Fort Clarence beach
Owned by the Urban Development Company (UDC), Fort Clarence beach is often used as a venue for dancehall stageshows and pay parties, but it’s also the preferred choice for Kingstonians seeking a less harassing, slightly more upscale venue to have a beach day (rather than Hellshire Beach). It’s a decent place for a swim, with clean changing rooms and toilets and a bar/restaurant where you can order up delicious fried fish. Busy particularly on the weekends and especially (almost to the point of avoiding) on public holidays. Lifeguards are on duty during opening hours.
Much more atmospheric than its just-across-the-reef counterpart, Hellshire beach has been a day-trip destination for Kingstonians since as far back as anyone can remember. With its maze of zinc shacks, salty fishermen, hustlers, higglers, herds of roaming goats and piping hot white sand, guests come here as much for the sights, sounds and sea as they do for the famous Hellshire fried fish, best eaten with festival and vinegary home-made escovitch sauce, which is utterly delicious. Bring towels to spread on the beach or get there early enough to nab one of the wooden loungers set up under the shady eaves of the area’s multiple fish joints – delightfully ramshackle and wholeheartedly Jamaican affairs which compete to sell the freshest fish, lobster and festival. Hellshire is buzzing at the weekends, with sound systems (particularly on a Sunday) and a party atmosphere. Also present at the weekends are watersports operators touting jet skis and snorkelling equipment, while horses (wearing fetching eye-gear to protect against flying sand grains) parade up and down giving children rides. If parking, be aware of hustlers offering to “watch your car” – in itself not a bad idea although you should never leave any valuables in sight – with the unspoken understanding that when you leave you’ll provide a small tip (at your discretion) for the service.